A two-day conference on the lessons learned from the army demobilization and
reintegration program heard that the role of civil society was vital to ensure
the process succeeded and that former soldiers were able to maintain a decent
standard of living.
"Civil society is uniquely qualified to perform two
critical functions," said Eric Kessler, the resident representative of the
National Democratic Institute on June 11. "Building public confidence in the
demobilization effort and providing support services for demobilized soldiers,
their families and a more streamlined military."
Cambodia is in the midst
of a nationwide program to demobilize tens of thousands of the country's bloated
military. Some 15,000 soldiers have been stood down so far, and around 40,000
more are set to go.
The program has been criticized by some observers as
demobilizing thousands of non-existent 'ghost' soldiers, created to stuff the
pockets of high-ranking military personnel.
The government was criticised
by participants, particularly aimed at defense officials and those running the
government's Council for Demobilization of Armed Forces (CDAF). One participant,
speaking anonymously, said the fact that neither the CDAF nor the government
turned up spoke volumes.
"We are disappointed because neither the defense
ministry nor the CDAF came here to take part in our discussions, or to hear the
thoughts of civil society," he said.
Huot Ratanak, executive director of
the Open Forum of Cambodia, urged that NGOs and government work together to find
ways to provide skills that demobilized soldiers could live on, rather than
simply give them resources that typically lasted only a short time.
should provide them with fish hooks rather than just give them a fish," she
said. "As members of civil society we are happy to cooperate with the government
if the programs we run relate to the demobilization process."
also urged NGOs, private companies and the other institutions to give priority
to former soldiers where they were suitable candidates, much as they have done
with women applicants.
And a senior researcher at the Cambodian Institute
for Cooperation and Peace (CICP), Samrang Komsan, said civil society should
undertake research on the specific difficulties and needs of demobilized
soldiers, providing them cash and materials, develop their local communities,
find markets for their produce, and encourage local authorities to assist
Komsan added that help with obtaining micro-finance
would also be welcome, as would the attention of the National Assembly and the
Senate in dealing with development and poverty alleviation for former
Boua Chanthou, the executive director of the Partnership for
Development in Kampuchea (PADEK), chaired the session that focused on the
participation of civil society. She said lack of funds for local NGO was an
important factor limiting their ability to help.
"Local NGOs receive only
10 percent of the funding that goes to international NGOs each year," she said,
and asked that Germany's GTZ and the World Food Programme should ensure
conditions were more suitable for local NGOs to participate in the
She said that PADEK works with 200 impoverished
villages. Its operations favored demobilized soldiers in areas such as literacy
"We do not discriminate against [demobilized soldiers],"
she said. "Our policy is to provide them in advance with the opportunity to
participate in literacy training and other development skills."
Kim Hourn, executive director of CICP, said the workshop's recommendations would
be sent to the government, donors, and other institutions involved in